Recently the U.S. military announced it was in the final stages of opening all combat positions to women and the question of whether or not women should register for involuntary service was raised in a presidential debate.* These developments were met with loud opposition from some on the evangelical right who declared that “any man who would ask his wife or daughter to endure the horrors of war to protect him has missed the very core of biblical manhood” and suggested “a nation that sends its young women to fight its wars is a nation that may no longer be worth defending.”  These responses stem from a belief that women serving in combat is a violation of God-ordained gender roles.
From my vantage point as a conservative evangelical who believes in gender equality without role limitations, the uproar over “sending our daughters into battle for us” seems like an overly dramatic and late response. Today women serve in combat in at least 18 countries, and over 200,000 women are on active duty with the U.S. armed forces.
An estimated 11,000 women served in Vietnam, 40,000 women filled combat-support positions in the Persian Gulf War, and 300,000 women were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where female soldiers were found to be essential to combat effectiveness.
Less than 20% of military roles are combat positions; lifting the ban simply opens up the final 10% of positions that currently exclude women. The changing nature of war suggests that future conflicts will be conducted mostly through technology-driven strategies rather than hand-to-hand combat, so numbers of women on the front lines are not expected to increase much moving forward.
As to the issue of mandatory service, the proposal would only require women who turn 18 to register with the Selective Service – it does not institute a draft. Considering recent military downsizing and budget constraints, and the fact that the U.S. hasn’t used the draft since 1973, it is unlikely that large numbers of women are going to be conscripted in the near future.
If God did not create women to be able to function in military environments, surely by now this would be self-evident. Yet data from nations that employ women in combat roles has not shown any significant negative impact on the effectiveness, cohesion or readiness of mixed gender military teams. For example, an Israeli Defense Force study found that women often exhibit “superior skills” in discipline, motivation, and shooting abilities”.
THE BIBLICAL ARGUMENT
Christians regularly debate the morality of war, and I think most would agree that not sending any of our children to war would be preferable. But it is difficult to make a case against women in the military from the Bible.
Those who would exclude women from service use the creation narratives as a foundation for their argument, specifically the description of Eve as Adam’s “helper” in Genesis 2. This interpretation mistakenly assumes that “helper” refers to a subordinate role. The Hebrew phrase “ezer kenedgo” actually conveys the sense of a military rescue and would be better translated as “a strong rescuer” or “equal partner”. Such an interpretation also ignores the mutual mandate given to both Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 to have dominion over the earth.
In the Old Testament mostly men are recorded as going to war, but there are enough stories of warrior-spirited women to suggest that this is not the whole picture. Consider the stories of Deborah and Jael (Judges 4), the woman who cracked the skull of Gideon’s son with a millstone (Judges 9), the wise woman who negotiated the beheading of a rebel and had his head thrown over a wall (2 Samuel 20), and the apocryphal figure Judith.
New Testament passages like 1 Peter 3 and Ephesians 5 are sometimes cited to say that God intends for men to be the protectors of women rather than the other way around. But these passages speak to marriage relationships in Greco-Roman culture, and cannot be extrapolated to contexts they are clearly not addressing without violating basic hermeneutical standards.
The book of Acts and post-biblical sources remind us that Christian women were often imprisoned and killed for their faith along with their male counterparts, and we have the example of Joan of Arc, who led the French army to victory over the British during the Hundred Years’ War under divine guidance.
Women were tortured and imprisoned for their beliefs during the Reformation, women endured the same hardships as men in settling “The New World” for the sake of religious freedom, and women risked their lives spying for the government in the Civil War and “manning” the Underground Railroad, and women have served in every major war since. Throughout history, Christian women have put their lives at risk for their families, their faith, and their countries.
BROADER IMPLICATIONS FOR JUSTICE
A post on the website of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention asserts that “forcing women into that [combat] role will not lead to more freedom but rather to less equality, more violence toward women, and a general degradation of humanity.”  One has to wonder how the author reaches those conclusions in light of the violence against women being perpetrated by men all around the world, both inside and outside of combat zones.
It is widely acknowledged that in modern wars it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier. The use of rape as a weapon of war is well documented, and 90% of war casualties are civilian, the majority being women and children. 
USAID and other humanitarian organizations report that armed conflicts are escalated by a posture of “hyper-masculinity” (an increase in aggressive and misogynistic traits), and such posturing continues after a conflict ends. The integration of women in the armed forces can help to counter this unhealthy dynamic and increases the likelihood that women will have opportunities to influence the outcomes of conflict and contribute to peacemaking efforts.
The role of the military internationally is moving towards the prevention of conflict, securing of peace, and the reconstruction of countries after wars and natural disasters. Enlisted women are sorely needed to influence these complex situations, but so far their participation has been minimal. For example, less than 1% of the troops involved in UN peacekeeping missions and only 9% of negotiators at peace tables are women.
It is hard to imagine a more Christian calling than to be a part of these military-aided humanitarian efforts around the world.
Closer to home, the history of sexual assault within the U.S. military is appalling and must be addressed. As more women are integrated, especially into the senior enlisted and officer ranks, we can expect the culture to improve (as this pilot program in Norway demonstrated).
Organizations like The Gospel Coalition and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are out of touch with other Christians on issues related to women.  They oversimplify complex matters, allow those using their platforms to use scripture out of context, and make definitive statements about gender roles that cannot be supported by the biblical texts.
It’s telling when an issue that primarily affects women is framed in terms of the impact it has on men. But such a posture is a logical outcome of a theology of gender that views women as subordinate to men and discounts their autonomy and spiritual wisdom. Fortunately, not all evangelicals hold this view. 
Biblical egalitarians believe that a hierarchy based on gender, no matter how benevolent, has no place in the Body of Christ. This doesn’t mean egalitarians believe there are no differences between men and women. It means that we believe the gifts and abilities those differences represent are sorely needed in all areas of society, even the military. It’s time for these leaders to stop presenting themselves as though they represent what all evangelical Christians believe.
Christian daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, and grandmothers serve their countries, not in some ill-guided attempt to rob men of their honor or blur gender boundaries, but out of a desire to live out their Christian convictions. To refuse women the right to serve so that men can feel more “manly” seems self-serving at best and arrogant at worst.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV 2011). Sacrificial love is a core principle of Christianity. No one should be excluded categorically from defending their country or fighting for justice based on their gender.
*This post was amended after publication to clarify that the comments in the opening paragraph directly address the issue of drafting women. The organizations cited also oppose women in combat. 
 Quotes from The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and The Gospel Coalition http://cbmw.org/topics/manhood/we-will-never-let-our-daughters-die-for-us/ http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/will-women-be-forced-to-register-for-the-military-draft. See also The Facts about Women in Combat http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-faqs-women-in-combat and http://www.dennyburk.com/women-in-combat-and-the-undoing-of-civilization-2/.
 There are several egalitarian readings of 1 Peter 3:7. 1) The writer is encouraging the believing husband to treat an unbelieving wife with honor even though she is spiritually weaker http://juniaproject.com/wives-husbands-1-peter-who-is-the-weaker-vessel/, 2) the writer is describing what mutual submission might look like in that specific cultural setting http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/submission-respect-1-peter-3_7-8/, 3) the writer expects husbands to actively counter the injustice society had perpetrated upon women and honor them as “equal heirs” in the kingdom http://juniaproject.com/becoming-a-champion-of-women-pastors-journey/. Regardless of the interpretation, physical protection is not the issue being addressed. More on Ephesians 5 here.
 According to Pew 2013 66% of the American public support women in combat, while just 26% are opposed. An informal poll of 250 Junia Project Facebook followers showed an even greater divide, presumably due to egalitarian beliefs. 92% favor women in combat roles, 8% oppose.
 Click here for a list of Protestant denominations showing their official stance on women (complementarian vs. egalitarian).
Women in War – This documentary looks at American women’s increasing participation in war—from Vietnam to the present—as nurses, soldiers, journalists, diplomats and spies. The film shares the stories of military leaders who have broken through gender barriers, like General Angela Salinas, at her retirement the highest ranking woman serving in the USMC, and Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. Navy.
Women for Women International – A grassroots humanitarian and development organization helping women brutalized by rape and war.